Feminism is often considered a movement of the past – a time when women did not have equality, that is, were not “equal, especially in status, rights, or opportunities” to men (OD 2012). But what does this concept of equality, putting aside for now whether it has been achieved or not, actually mean for women?
It means women can be just like men. They have the same access to education (tick), can pursue the same career paths (tick), and are able to purchase the same products and properties (tick) – in short, they are able to make the same individual choices as men. But when choice is entirely based on ‘man’, what about ‘choices’ that specifically concern ‘woman’? In short, to what degree can women really make a choice when this choice is in itself irrelevant or not applicable to men?
For example, can women choose (not) to have children? (half-tick: abortion rights are vehemently under attack). Can women choose (not) to stay at home once they do? (quarter-tick: childcare benefits and tax credits continue to be cut). Can women choose (not) to be harassed in the street, be abused, raped, or killed on the mere basis of their bodies? (cross). And suddenly, all choice seems gone.
The problem with our current concept of choice is that it is based on the idea(l) of self-determination, and further, self-determination from/within the body of ‘man’. So as long as we (only) strive to be equal rather than equivalent to men (Irigaray 2000), women are essentially unable to be fully human, that is, have access to equivalent rights attributed to (the body of) men – a neat circle which keeps women from becoming truly equal and, at the same time, constantly reaffirms the supremacy of ‘man’. He, that is his body, forever remains the ideal human.
But while we might not have a choice over the sex of our body, we can at least choose how we interpret it – so far from being a thing of the past, feminism is central to shaping a different future. However, one thing that definitely needs to go into the dustbin of history is the benchmark ‘man’ – for women, choosing his (physical) life is in effect no choice at all.
Irigaray, Luce. 2000. Democracy Begins Between Two. Translated by Kirsteen Anderson. London: The Athlone Press.